Tuesday, January 20, 2009
We've come a ways
Anyone else surprised at the depth of emotion you're feeling right now about this inauguration? As I watched the televised images of the crowds on the National Mall early this morning, saw the joy on their faces and the waving of the small American flags in their hands, tears came. I didn't expect that. I've never cried about such sights before. I wondered where that feeling came from.
Then I remembered. It came from a scene in my Memphis front yard in 1956. It's one of my earliest memories and I am not proud of it. My 4-year-old self stood behind a tree with a neighbor playmate and watched an African American lady walk down the sidewalk. As she passed us we yelled out, "Nigger!"
My parents were prejudiced but they would not have condoned such behavior. They weren't confrontational about their biases. Had they been within earshot of my act they would certainly have shushed me quickly. As it was, it took living through the sixties, education and a modicum of maturity to eventually hush the ugly hate that had been planted in my impressionable psyche almost from birth.
So, no, I'm not proud of what I did to that lady walking down the block of blue-collar white households on that day fifty-some-odd years ago. But I am proud of the fact that I can now feel the joy of this most meaningful moment in my country's recent history. I am proud of the hope I feel for our future. And I'm proud of America. To have seen this country move from a time when an African American couldn't walk down a street without a 4-year-old white child swearing hatefully at them to a day when an African American is sworn in as our nation's president, that is what brings tears.